In pondering “art for art’s sake”, I need to narrate my first encounter with Abstract Art. At the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, I decided to view paintings by Willem de Kooning (Dutch-American, 1904-1997), a prominent Abstract Expressionist. These paintings featured black brush strokes on a white canvas. My first reaction was that "this is not art”! To me, his paintings were simply large squiggles on canvas. My definition of art meant a representation of people or objects concerning a particular subject.
Then I encountered the drip (poured) paintings by Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956). I considered these paintings to be a complete waste of paint. They were simply a mess of color drips and splashes. I wondered how could these paintings be considered art.
My view was that art had a function, and had to be representational. A person painted a picture to express an idea. Art had to have meaning of some kind even if it depicted a bowl of fruit. The observer had to see something. De Kooning, himself, said, “Even abstract shapes must have a likeness.”
Revisiting de Kooning’s paintings, I noticed that the artist had painted over several brushstrokes. I realized that in each picture, the artist had planned the positive and negative spaces. Every painting had its own internal logic and structure. The interaction I had with de Kooning’s paintings was different that the others since his paintings engaged the subconscious.
With my new perceptions of art, I looked at Pollock’s paintings again. Through dripping paint on canvas, Pollock wanted to access the unconscious mind, and push beyond normal artistic conventions. Some of his paintings were dismal failures, but others did succeed. In fact, some art historians say that Pollock reinvented the Western tradition of art. By his efforts, Pollock’s paintings could exist for themselves alone.